The Tell-es-Safi/Gath project has recently been receiving much attention due to the recent discovery of the monumental city gate. As someone who was there at the time of the discovery, I can attest to the fact that it was very exciting to see and to be a part of!
But before I had even left Vancouver, I was really just looking forward to being back in the dirt. My previous field experience had been in Cyprus, and I had been glad to discover that my chosen field was one I enjoyed immensely. So, I was really just happy to be able to use a trowel and dig through dirt again.
For anyone who isn’t intimately acquainted with archaeology, it mostly consists of cleaning, digging, sweeping up that dirt, and then back to digging. One of the girls I dug with said it best: “When in doubt, sweep”. We also always make sure to keep our baulks nice and straight, use lots of sunscreen and wear hats (or, as is my personal preference, bandanas). And we wake up very early. In this case, early enough to catch the 5:15am bus to the site.
When in doubt, sweep.
The usual morning, in my case at least, was catching a few more zzzs on the bus before arriving to the site. There, we would grab either a water container or a handful of buckets, before beginning the trek up to our respective areas. I was up in Area F. And when I say ‘up’, I mean up – near the top of the Tell.
Area F was fairly large, as it consisted of both an upper and lower portion. In the upper portion, previous excavation seasons had gone through the remains of an Arab cemetery and part of the Crusader fortress, to arrive at the layers that dated to the Bronze Age. This season, however, we worked in the lower portion, which had an EB fortification wall running through it.
My experience in Cyprus had consisted of fairly detailed and careful work, and we only used hand picks maybe three times. In Israel, my trench and I moved more dirt than I ever thought possible. I became very familiar with a turea (essentially a garden hoe), a tool that I learned is useful not only for dealing with weeds, but also rocks and for picking up loose dirt when you are moving large quantities of it. It’s one of my favorite tools, if just for the fact that the amount of dirt it picked up was so much more than I could ever hope to clean with a brush and dustpan. Petition to include tureas as a necessary tool in any future excavations? Yes, please.
Our purpose in our particular section was to try to determine what exactly was happening on the outside of the fortification wall. This is the wall that anyone in our Area, past or present, is fairly well-acquainted with. Our particular square was affectionately called the Well of Souls. For a quick comparison as to the amount of dirt moved, here are two pictures:
Throughout our Area, different projects were occurring in different squares. There was a glacis at a similar chronological level, pebbled floors, bronze objects and pottery. All of which were celebrated collectively and excitedly, usually while we were munching on some kind of fruit.
Aside from the physical process of digging, archaeology is also about retaining and cataloguing information. So, once the digging part of the day was over, we went back to the Kibbutz we were staying at, ate lunch, and promptly began pottery washing, an activity any archaeologist has, at some point or another in their career, participated in. Pottery washing is not the only part of it, as paperwork of all sorts goes hand in hand with methodological excavation, ranging from bucket tags to site planning to inputting information into a larger database. It is not the first thing that comes to mind when thinking of archaeology, but it is arguably the more important part.
Eventually, we of the Well of Souls reached an EB floor on one side of the square, while on the other, the aptly named ‘dino rocks’ (which can be seen in the picture above) seemed to be never-ending, being, perhaps, an earlier form of fortification. This is, of course, a very exciting possibility. However, by this point, the season was nearing its end, and thus we packed up the tents and left with, I believe, more questions than answers, as I suspect is usually the case with archaeology, and probably the biggest reason why we keep going back.